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Imagine Me Gone


Imagine Me Gone

Author Adam Haslett explores love, family and mental illness across multiple generations in his latest novel, IMAGINE ME GONE. Told from each family member’s perspective across more than 30 years, the reader is exposed to the experiences of living with and loving a parent, spouse, sibling and child with mental illness. And, of course, to the experiences of two people living with mental illness themselves.

The family lives between two worlds. In one, most of which takes place outside of Boston, paterfamilias John is a successful, quick-witted businessman of some sort who easily makes lasting connections. But John falters for periods at a time, falling into a sort of “hibernation,” as a friendly doctor explains to Margaret on the eve of her engagement. These periods leave the family in limbo, forcing them to retreat from the United Kingdom, where Margaret would prefer to build their lives, and ultimately leading to John’s suicide in what he sees both as an act of cowardice and of mercy. 

"As much as the book is about mental illness and the individual, it is about the family and the relationships that define who many of us are."

Of course, he doesn’t really leave them. He lingers not only in the scars they bear from his drawn-out fading and ultimate erasure, but also in the form of Michael, the eldest son. Michael, too, is unable to live the typical life that society, his family and he himself hope for. Tortured by anxiety with an obsessive focus on music and slavery in the United States and its aftermath, his suffocating attentions allow for little intimacy with people he is interested in (most of which are young, lesbian, black women). Some of this we see clearly through his siblings’ and mother’s pained depictions of his life, but others we realize via the man himself, whose reports are vivid and uncomfortable enough to leave the reader physically ill at ease.

It’s difficult, of course, to assess the book in some ways. There are points at which Celia, Alec (the other two siblings) and their mother have moments of insight that seem just a little too knowing. But then again, often the truth of a family is that they do see one another too clearly. So perhaps this isn’t unlikely. Certainly, it feels real. The specificity and oddity of the obsessions, and the knowledge most people carry of themselves and the stories they tell themselves to avoid it. Not to mention the confusion and terror of facing a mind you do not completely understand but also the confidence that, especially if it’s the mind of a close relative, it cannot be so different from yours as to be unreachable. Even without the chaos of mental instability, these are recognizable patterns.

As much as the book is about mental illness and the individual, it is about the family and the relationships that define who many of us are. These are the supporting structures that we cling to and reject so many times over a lifetime. It’s through these relationships that we often learn how to cope with the wider world, however unsuccessfully. If you don’t want to read it for the characters or their specific situation, read it for that. And for what it’s worth, IMAGINE ME GONE led to the singular experience of being stopped on the street by a young man who told me how much he loved it. A convincing review if ever I heard one.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on May 20, 2016

Imagine Me Gone
by Adam Haslett

  • Publication Date: February 21, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316261335
  • ISBN-13: 9780316261333